When I was 12 years old, my parents thought it was a good idea to camp through Europe with their five younger children. That meant five children under the age of thirteen riding in the back of a Volkswagen campervan for an entire month. After one week of non-stop brawling, with arms and legs flying everywhere, and my parents valiantly trying to keep the van steady while driving, they did what any reasonable parents would do in that situation. They left us at a campground in Berlin to get a few hours of peace and quiet. (Doing that wasn’t as unusual as it might sound today because it was common in camping culture back then for families to keep an eye out on each other’s children when needs arose.)
When we asked my parents where they were going, they confessed that they had made an appointment with a travel agent who would help them make arrangements to send us home, unaccompanied by parents, of course.
That was a sobering night for us kids. There was a major fire in East Berlin that looked like it was burning out of control. We could see its flames rising up from behind the wall, but we couldn’t tell if it was moving in our direction or not. My thirteen-year old brother did his best to calm us down, but the larger the fire grew, the more we wished our parents would come back to save us. We promised God we would do anything to have them back, even stop fighting in the car.
I remember holding hands in a circle at our campsite and praying to God for help. Our first petition, of course, was for our parents to return—we were afraid of the fire—but very quickly we began praying that God would make us the sort of children that didn’t have to be sent home from a trip of a lifetime. By the end of our prayer, we felt a certain peace, even a confidence, that God would help us get along with each other, if only our parents gave us a second chance.
I don’t know the hour my parents returned that night, but it must have been very late because of how dark and quiet the night had become. We were all tucked in our sleeping bags and heard the van’s tires roll over some branches when it pulled into its parking spot. Immediately, we untangled ourselves like kittens from a basket and rushed out of the tent to greet them.
I’m sure it was hard for my parents to process why we were so excited to see them, especially because they had left in such a huff. Had we been in danger? Did something happen to us while they were gone? It’s hard to process things when you have ten arms locked around your waist and five children shouting at you at once.
There was so much we wanted to tell them about that night, about the fire, about how we had prayed, and about how God had given us confidence that we could act lovingly toward each other; it was all spilling out in a jumble, and we wanted them to know that something had changed in us. We begged for them to let us stay.
As I reflect on that night, and even that summer, it causes me to think about God’s grace toward us. Sometimes we can get so focused on what’s happening inside the van and who is hitting whom, and who is sitting in whose seat, that we forget how privileged we are to be in the van in the first place.
As we literally camped from Norway to Italy that summer, and all the countries in between, I think about the people we met, the cultures we experienced, the history we learned, and the beauty we saw everywhere we went. From fiords in Norway to cathedrals in France to the alps in Switzerland to canals in Venice, every experience was like a dream. I’m so grateful that our parents didn’t send us home, but, rather, gave us a second chance to make peace with each other and look out the window to see God’s majesty in all its various forms. There was so much to see, and there always is.
The Church seems to be in that moment where we are being called to look out the window again and see what God is doing all around us, sometimes through us, but quite often independently from us. I’m grateful to be in a faith community that longs to look out the window together to what God is doing, even as we “participate in God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ in the world” (PLR Strategies in Plain Language from Revised Mission Plan.)
As we begin this year together, I am reminded that God is ever ready to hear our prayers, soften our hearts, and make us the sort of disciples that will not only honor him with our lives but enjoy each day of the journey.
I look forward to looking out the window with you in 2017!